Free Agent Marco Scutaro

One of the more intriguing free agents, to me, is Marco Scutaro. After years of solidly below-average production, he was traded to the Jays and in 2008 had a good year last year (WAR 2.7) and then busted out this year with a WAR of 4.5 (making him one of the top 35 position players).

The big change came at the plate. Prior to this year, he had always been a below-average offensive player (negative wRAA every year), but this year he posted a wOBA of .354 over 680 PAs to provide 14 runs above average at the plate. Doing that while playing average defense at short will result in huge value, as seen by his 4.5 WAR.

The increase in offensive value came, largely, from an increased walk rate, 13.6%, a career high for him and in the top 25 of all of baseball. He coupled that with a low strikeout rate; he was one of the few players in the game to have more walks than strikeouts. This led to a jump in his OBP, and thus offensive value.

A big drop in his swing rate and increase in his contact rate caused to the increase in walks. He was the second best at not swinging at pitches out of the zone (12.3%), had the third lowest overall swing rate (34.5%, behind only Bobby Abreu and Luis Castillo), and he tied Castillo for the highest contact percentage (93.3%). His offensive game is very similar to Castillo’s, which I described in this post.

Here is what it looks like to swing at almost nothing. I mapped out his swing probability by pitch location and then drew the contour line where it switches from greater than 50% to less than 50%. So he is more likely than not to swing at pitches inside the contour line, and less likely than not to swing at those outside. I broke it up based on the number of strikes and, for the zero-strike case, also plotted the 25% contour. I plotted Scutaro’s contours and the average for all right handed batters.
swing_1113
When there are zero strikes Scutaro’s 50% contour is non-existent. On average he takes a pitch even if it is right down the middle when he has no strikes. Generally, he swings at fewer pitches out of the zone, but he is also taking lots of pitches in the zone compared to average. By swinging, Scutaro has a chance to end the at-bat; instead, he will take pitches in hopes of continuing the at-bat and getting enough balls to earn a walk. He will take some strikes, but that is ok, because once he gets two strikes, his contact skills are so good he will rarely strike out swinging.

Here are the same graphs as above but for contact rate, and the contours are for the 90% contact rate. So on pitches inside the contour Scutaro has a greater than 90% contact rate.
contact_1113
Scutaro’s are, not surprisingly, much larger than average, and they get bigger as the number of strikes increases. So he is able to swing defensively at two strikes and rarely miss a pitch. This means he can take pitches freely up to that point, hope they are balls to get a walk, but even if they are strikes, he will be ok.

As I noted, Scutaro’s approach is very simliar to Castillo’s. The difference is that Scutaro hit only 37% of his balls in play on the ground compared to 59% for Castillo. So when Scutaro puts the ball in play, he actually has some chance at extra base hits (ISO of .127 compared to Castillo’s .043). Scutaro has Castillo’s excellent plate discipline and contact skills, coupled with at least a modicum of power, making him a solidly above average hitter.

Scutaro is due for some serious regression to his offensive level, as is anyone who posts 2400 PAs at wOBA of .311 and then 680 at .354. But I think that, because the change is supported by the per-pitch level data, which is not immune from regression itself, we can temper that regression somewhat.

Scutaro can play average defense at second or slightly below average at short, is 34 coming off far and away a career year at the plate, and is a type A free agent. It will be interesting to see what kind of deal he gets.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


19 Responses to “Free Agent Marco Scutaro”

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  1. Michael says:

    Love the graphs Dave, great work. The two strike contour for contact is ridiculous. The map extends even past the graph!

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Yeah, I cut the graph off at 2 feet. So he is still making contact on pitches two feet from the middle of the plate 90% of the time (for pitches in that certain height range).

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  2. brent in Korea says:

    This is a scouting issue too. The Jays adjusted his batting stance this year. I think it is more sustainable than you think.

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  3. John says:

    So, if I’m reading this correctly, after throwing strike one to Scutaro, a pitcher should go up and away with the next pitch. Looks like Scutaro takes those quite often.

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    • RZ says:

      Dave should look at where Scutaro takes his pitches compared to the rest of the league. I know I’ve seen him take knee-high fastballs for balls with two strikes. Scary good confidence and plate discipline.

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  4. The Hit Dog says:

    Dave, this analysis (which is awesome, by the way), seems to suggest, to me, something fairly sustainable. Sure, Scutaro is exiting his prime years, but couldn’t this be due to a change in approach? It doesn’t seem like good luck given these graphs.

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  5. Mike Green says:

    Scutaro’s career path would make total sense if he came up at age 22 or 23 instead of 28. If you try to find a comparable season for a middle infielder at age 33 who came up late, you get really only three others- Davey Lopes, Eddie Stanky and Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto is a fine comp. After his MVP season, Rizzuto settled in and gave the Yankees 3 seasons from age 34-36 at his career norms through age 33. That’s what I would expect from Scutaro (i.e. an OPS+ of 92 if he’s in the AL, and proportionately better if he’s in the NL).

    The pitch analysis helps persuade me that Scutaro’s season wasn’t a fluke.

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  6. MBD says:

    Thanks, Dave. Fascinating stuff. Score one for J.P.

    By my quick count, only 14 players with at least 300 PAs in 2009 had more walks than strikeouts (plus Juan Pierre, who was even). So “few” indeed. Of course, this is the first time Scutaro has done it.

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  7. Southsider says:

    I’d say Scutaro would be well above average at 2B (fielding) with batting regression obviously inevitable.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      I was going by his UZR/150 which pegs him at almost exactly average 0.1 UZR/150 over 2229 innings a 2B. This is backed up by his time at SS, where is at -2.9 UZR/150 over 3460. That is what we expect from an average second basemen at short.

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      • General methodological point: Wouldn’t we expect an average 2B to be 10 runs worse at SS?

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      • Dave Allen says:

        I could be wrong on this point, but I thought this is where you one used positional adjustments. I had thought it was -2.5 going from 2b to ss, but I think I was misremembering, based on this it looks like it should be -5. That would suggest he is maybe a run better at second and a run worse at short, if you put the data together.

        Matt where are you getting -10?

        Again this is not my strong suit, so I could be wrong here.

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      • Southsider says:

        I guess I am pegging him as an average SS which would translate to an above average 2B by most historical comparisons. He isn’t ‘rangy’ by any means at SS, but he is heady and his error rate at 2B would be very low making up for any short-comings in range.

        Although, league average is probably fair, I am just giving him additional credit after a solid season at SS.

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      • Southsider says:

        After perusing the leaders for UZR at 2B for 2009, I think you had him correctly pegged as average, I couldn’t see many 2B he would rate higher than other than possible Jose Lopez, who had a similiar UZR. Apologies….

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      • D’oh, sorry Dave. I should have said -5. I don’t know where my head was when I wrote that… well, I do, but I’m not sure how it got all the way down there, as I’m not usually that flexible.

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  8. dorsal says:

    15.5 inches (2ft from center) off the plate and he’s swinging? I’ve heard of protecting the plate, but obviously there’s room for improving his pitch selection.

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  9. ayjackson says:

    I was wondering if his success may be due to a change of approach at the plate. At the beginning of the season, he was annointed the everyday leadoff hitter. Did he adopt this “try to take a walk” strategy for the first time this year? Has he always been so passive with no strikes?

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  10. JoeR43 says:

    Here’s to Marco Scutaro not being offered arb tomorrow, clearing the way for the Red Sox to offer him a 2-3 year deal.

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  11. Judy says:

    Scutaro will be offered arbitration, and I think the Red Sox will still make him a 2-3 year offer, just one that subtracts the value of their pick from the total value of their offer.

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